There’s no point denying it. I am fat, obese, curvy, plus size, or however else you want to phrase it. I have used disordered eating as a way to control my emotions and deal with stuff for nearly 40 years. For nearly 30 of those I was told by medical professionals to go on a diet. And I did try. But I had undiagnosed binge eating disorder. Although let’s be fair, binge eating disorder wasn’t even a diagnosis when I developed it. For another 5 of those years I was praised for losing weight. Most of those years I purged.
Now’s the time for all those comments from internet trolls about how I would be so much healthier if I lost a few stone, right?
About 5 years ago, a GP referred me to the Eating Disorders Team after I lost those few stone while on SSRIs. I was inundated with compliments about how well I looked at the time. Yes, I was so well I needed anti-depressants to function, but the weight loss seemed so much more important to everyone, including me.
I have been open about my depression and anxiety for years. I have been so lucky, I haven’t faced any major stigma. The people I speak to take these in their stride. They can relate to them on some level. Some have even responded by sharing their own experiences. But my eating disorder? That’s a different thing entirely…
Shocked, disbelieving faces, trying not to look me up and down, trying to work out how I could possibly have anorexia at my size.
Newsflash: Anorexia is not the only eating disorder. And let’s not even mention how ridiculous it is to have a weight criterion for anorexia diagnosis, implying it’s possible to be not anorexic enough and delaying treatment.
“Oh yeah, me too. I go home and eat chocolate after a tough day lol”
Silly me, I didn’t realise it was that simple. I could have saved myself years of therapy.
Of course I don’t say these things. I don’t want people to feel bad. Most don’t know that eating disorders aren’t just about food. Just look at the messages we are bombarded with! They are all very black and white. Weight loss is revered. Fat people are demonised. Yay! A celebrity lost weight. Boo! Obese people are lazy and a drain on society. Thin good, fat bad. But eating disorders are much greyer and more complex than that.
And yet one simple realisation has started to change everything for me: my weight actually has no relationship to my value as a human being.
What is really more important? Being thin or being kind? Smoothing cellulite or battling stigma? Having perfect skin or having compassion? For a long time I wasn’t sure. Now I am.
I have spent most of my life being ashamed about my relationship with food. I have spent even longer being ashamed of my size. I am determined not to feel that way any more. And most of the time I succeed. But it is really hard because of the world we live in right now. The Government is telling me to count calories and lose weight. I am surrounded by people trying to lose those extra pounds they gained during COVID.
So how can you help me and others struggling with eating disorders? Remember they’re not just about food, and sometimes not really about food at all. Ask us how we’re doing. Then ask a second time. Never praise weight loss. And finally, think about your own relationship with food and your weight. What unintended messages are you sending your friends, your family, your children? Good Mental Health is way more important than any number on the scales. Take it from someone who learned the hard way.
If you want to know more about this issue, contact BEAT. Details at www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk